The first two of the Ten Commandments address the issue of God’s pre-eminence, first place, in the lives of all who follow Him: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol.” (Ex. 20:3-4 NIV) The Apostle John reiterates the second commandment for which the Amplified Bible gives a more complete understanding: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods)–[from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life.]” (1 John 5:21 Amp.) Jesus emphasized God’s pre-eminence when He said that the most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30 NIV) Because God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, is the omnipotent, omniscient Creator, the limitless source of all that is good, He has the right to demand the place of greatest importance in the lives and hearts of the creatures which He lovingly made in His own image to be His companions. Anything that supplants Him in His position of supreme importance in our lives is an idol.
Our so called “secular” culture mostly based upon aetheistic “religious humanism” as defined primarily by the 1st and 2nd Humanist Manifestos, 1933 and 1973, recommends, suggests, or approves many possible idols upon which humans may base their lives. Aside from demanding tolerance and equal acceptance of the pagan religions among us which do worship images of their gods, the idols in our culture are the things, values, and attitudes of daily life given undue importance.
Materialism, the drive to acquire riches in possessions and finances but never having enough, seems to usually come to mind first when considering idols, probably because it remains so common through all ages. Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money,” (Luke 16:13NIV) Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10 NIV) Note that money itself is not evil, but rather the excessive importance often given it. Jesus puts material needs in perspective when He tells us, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:31-33 NIV)
The drive for sexual satisfaction has become a controlling obsession, a powerful idol, for many people, especially men. The greater the gift, the greater the damage done by its misuse. Sex is a very great and wonderful gift when used with the discipline and self-control to keep it within the marital setting as God intended. The overwhelming sexualization of our culture both trivializes the glory of sex and exacerbates the damaging effects of its abusive use.
Self has become a common idol; the importance of “I” as the primary value is seen in the emphasis on self-esteem, self-worth, self-realization in a “look out for number one” and “me first” culture. Of course, putting self-will ahead of God’s will started with Eve.
Feelings have become such a common idol that it has become a human rights offence to merely offend the feelings of those noticeably different. However, more subtle is the manner in which feelings become the primary value, idol, of an individual who then uses their feelings as the foundation for passive control of all relationships. You’ve heard the pattern: “When you do that, it makes me feel….and I just can’t have that kind of negativity in my life.” So sweet and reasonable and controlling like an iron fist in a velvet glove. Drives everyone crazy until it is recognized for the self-centred control that it is. Feelings as idols are also foundational to the situation Rick Warren identifies in this internet quote: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
This merely scratches the surface of idolatry in our culture as it is obvious in those around us and a temptation to everyone. More subtle and more dangerous is the institutionalized idolatry identified by Herbert Schlossberg in his book “Idols for Destruction—The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture” published by Crossway Books, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187. It is a heavy read, but very eye-opening in the understanding it provides, and very helpful in understanding the challenging intellectual path the Christian Church must recover if it is to stand for faith in God and His justice and righteousness.